2014 NCAA Tournament: West Regional Preview

Matt Christians

The hosts, Minnesota, get the top seed in the West, and are the top overall seed in the tournament.

The NCAA West regional will take place at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Regional semifinals will be played on Saturday March 29th, while the regional final will be played on Sunday March 30th.

Here's a closer look at the four teams that will vie for a berth to the 2014 Frozen Four in Philadelphia.

No. 1 Minnesota

Bid: At-Large (Big Ten Regular Season Champions)

Location: Minneapolis, Minn.

Record: 25-6-6 overall, 14-3-3 Big Ten

Past NCAA Championships: 1974, 1976, 1979, 2002, 2003

Head Coach: Don Lucia (Notre Dame '81)

Captains: Nate Condon, Kyle Rau

Leading Scorers: Kyle Rau (12-22-34), Sam Warning (12-19-31), Mike Reilly (8-21-29), Hudson Fasching (12-16-28)

Starting Goaltender: Adam Wilcox (23-5-6, 1.91/.933)

What could have been a rebuilding year after four of last year's top five scorers left early instead turned into Minnesota reloading. Head coach Don Lucia's team, with eight freshmen, adjusted quickly. The Gophers spent most of the year as one of the top two teams in the nation with a high scoring offense (8th in the nation with 3.41 goals per game) and defense (3rd in the nation giving up on average 2.03 goals per game). Goaltender Adam WIlcox (Tampa Bay Lightning), named Big Ten player of the year and Hobey Baker finalist, is the backbone of a blue line that features Brady Skjei (New York Rangers) and leading B1G defensemen scorer Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets). All 3 have taken large steps in their development in 2013-14.

Offensively, Minnesota does not rely on one player or line. 8 forwards have more than 20 points. The highest of them, Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers), has 34 (12G-22A). It's a number which trails many other teams, but the Gophers are able to find ways to create offense. There are several weapons (including a 6-1 win over Boston College in late October; one of only two games which Johnny Gaudreau failed to register a point) and with the team's speed that no one in college hockey has matched this season, anyone facing Minnesota in the NCAA Tournament has its hands full.

However, the Big Ten regular season champions enter the tournament on just its second two-game losing streak of the season. Throw in last year's first round upset to Yale and you have to think the players feel like there is something to prove. Minnesota, playing 10 miles from campus, has a storied history with five national championships and would like to add to it.

No. 2 Notre Dame

Bid: At-Large

Location: South Bend, Ind.

Record: 23-14-2 overall, 9-9-2 HE

Past NCAA Championships: -

Head Coach: Jeff Jackson (Michigan State '78)

Captains: Jeff Costello

Leading Scorers: T.J. Tynan (8-29-37), Vince Hinostroza (8-24-32), Bryan Rust (16-15-31), Mario Lucia (16-14-30), Sam Herr (14-13-27)

Starting Goaltender: Steven Summerhays (21-13-2, 2.00/.925)

Jeff Jackson's Fighting Irish make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament in their first season in Hockey East. Notre Dame finished in eighth place during the regular season before upsetting No. 1 seed Boston College in three games in the tournament quarterfinals.

Jackson spoke about the difficulty adjusting to a new league, having to learn new playing styles, new officiating styles and different away barns than in the old CCHA. Notre Dame looked terrific at times, including a sweep at Providence, but at other times, the team looked lost.

Notre Dame has the knowledge that it can beat No. 1 Minnesota, having done so in November. The Fighting Irish split with the Gophers in a series, winning 4-1 and losing 5-4.

The other concern that the rest of this region should have is the firepower that Notre Dame has, if it can come together for two games this weekend.

T.J. Tynan, Bryan Rust, Vince Hinostroza and Sam Herr are terrific offensive talents, and Mario Lucia might have the best shot in the tournament, and he could be going up against his father in the second round if both higher seeds win in the first round.

Steven Summerhays has thrived in his senior season, registering seven shutouts, a Notre Dame single season program record. He certainly has the ability to be a game changer.

No. 3 St. Cloud State

Bid: At-Large (NCHC Regular Season Champions)

Location: St. Cloud, Minn.

Record: 21-10-5 overall, 15-6-3 NCHC

Past NCAA Championships: -

Head Coach: Bob Motzko (St. Cloud ‘87)

Captains: Kevin Gravel, Nic Dowd

Leading Scorers: Nic Dowd (21-18-39), Jonny Brodzinski (20-19-39), Kalle Kossila (13-25-38), David Morley (9-22-31)

Starting Goaltender: Ryan Faragher (19-8-4, 2.76/.906)

A year after winning their first regular season league title and making their first run to the Frozen Four, the Huskies were able to maintain that level of success by winning the first ever NCHC regular season title, despite losing last year's Hobey Baker winner Drew Leblanc to graduation, and top defenseman Nick Jensen to the pros.

Leading the way for the Husky offense is senior Hobey Baker finalist Nic Dowd, and sophomore forward Jonny Brodzinski, who reached the 20-goal mark for the second straight year, while also improving his assist total. But this year's Husky team is also more balanced offensively than last year's team, with secondary scorers like Kalle Kossila, Jimmy Murray, Ryan Papa, Joey Benik, and David Morley all capable of creating offense.

The defensive end of the ice may be more of a concern though. Top defenseman Andrew Prochno missed the final six games of the regular season with an injury. He's expected to be back in time for the NCAA tournament, however, and with the extra week to prepare after not playing in the NCHC's Frozen Faceoff, the Huskies should be rested and relatively healthy for the NCAA tournament.

The biggest concern for St. Cloud will be in goal, where goalie Ryan Faragher has really struggled with his confidence in the second half of his junior season. After seeming to turn a corner late in St. Cloud's NCHC title run, he was pulled in St. Cloud's first playoff loss to Miami, and gave up 4 goals on 30 shots in their second loss. St. Cloud will need a better performance out of him to have hopes of making it out of this regional.

No. 4 Robert Morris

Bid: Automatic (Atlantic Hockey Association Tournament Champions)

Location: Moon Township, Pa.

Record: 19-17-5 overall, 13-9-5 AHA

Past NCAA Championships: -

Head Coach: Derek Schooley (Western Michigan '94)

Captains: Colin South

Leading Scorers: Cody Wydo (30-22-52), Zac Lynch (18-27-45), Scott Jacklin (15-21-36), Greg Gibson (15-16-31)

Starting Goaltender: Dalton Izyk (5-1-0, 2.73/.922)

The Colonials are making their first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament after a terrific run through the Atlantic Hockey Association Tournament. After taking care of Army in the first round, Derek Schooley's team upset UConn in two games to advance to Rochester.

RMU skated past Niagara, 5-4, in overtime in the semifinal before finishing off the league's defending champions from Canisius by a score of 7-4 in the championship game.

The Colonials have an interesting situation in goal, having handed the reins to freshman Dalton Izyk late in the season. He was terrific in his first four games of the AHA Tournament, but gave up four in the final.

Junior sniper Cody Wydo could be the best scorer in the country that no one has heard about. The Allen Park, Mich. native has 51 goals over the past two seasons, including 30 this year.

Jeff Cox and Nathan Wells contributed to this report.

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